Those of us of a certain age may remember the movie “Fantastic Voyage,” though if of the male persuasion, you may not remember much about it other than Raquel Welch. Simply put, scientists miniaturize a submarine and its crew and inject it into a patient’s bloodstream in an effort to save his life. We may not be able to shrink a movie star to nano-proportions, but we’re getting closer to tiny robots that can move and navigate within our bodies.
Researchers at University of California San Diego have created a nano-scale robot that swims. While other robots use variations on a spiral, helical means of propulsion, this device takes a different approach. Hinged arms at each end of the “body” can rotate freely, bending to simulate the same motion as freestyle swimmers. It draws its power from an oscillating magnetic field, allowing to swim up to 12 body lengths in just one second. Furthermore, the robot can steer to navigate, and its speed can be controlled. The system is more energy efficient than typical devices that do not rely on a helical drive, such as those the mimic the flagella of some single-cell organisms.
The result is a nano-robot that could be controlled remotely to deliver medications or perform tasks at specific locations within the body. And no movie starts will have to be shrunk to make it work.